50 people to watch in 2021: The best young talent in Ireland

Movers and shakers: some of the people to Watch in 2020
The hottest young talent set to make waves in the worlds of politics, fashion, food, sport, activism, art, film and TV, sustainability, entrepreneurism and music

Film and TV, by Donald Clarke

FILM Zara Devlin. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times
Zara Devlin. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Zara Devlin
Actor
Many actors have endured unhappy circumstances during lockdown, but few had quite such a jolt as Zara Devlin. The young Tyrone woman – already noticed in The Glass Menagerie at The Gate and in Hecuba for Rough Magic – was just about to start a technical run for the Broadway adaptation of John Carney’s hit 2016 film Sing Street. “That was the day we saw the big theatre,” she says. “I walked on to the stage for a cast meeting. Two minutes later we were told that was it. We thought maybe it would be a couple of weeks. It was very sad,” she says. She remains in the ascendant. The musical will return and she is currently shooting an episode of Carney’s delightful anthology series Modern Love for Amazon Prime. Did she get it from her dad? “He had a Bruce Springsteen one-man show for a few years,” she remembers. “It was him narrating Bruce Springsteen’s life because he looked a bit like him.” Carney describes her as a “genuine revelation” and dares to compare her to Judy Garland. Phew!

FILM: Leah Minto
Leah Minto. Photograph: Rosie Kernohan

Leah Minto
Actor
The bookmakers are dragging in the odds on Leah Minto becoming the next Irish actor to achieve full-on star status. She was raised on the northside of Dublin and is a proud alumna of the National Youth Theatre. Minto has already staked out territory with a role on the hit series Red Rock. She was in Normal People. As we spoke, she was preparing for the rehearsed reading of Antigone, adapted by Colin Murphy, that streamed late last year. Appropriately enough, Minto made her contribution from Athens. “I am a bit of a vagabond,” she says, laughing. “There are so many things online that ask you for your address. I think: where am I now?” Next up, the world can see her in Netflix original fantasy series Fate: The Winx Saga. “I am a soldier in this academy in the fairy world,” she tells me. The series was shot at home in Ireland, but it must be daunting to enter the Netflix empire? “If it gets into your head the countries that it’s going to that can make it feel quite big,” she says. “But a lot of the crew that I worked with on Red Rock were there. You have your mates around you.”

FILM Nathalie Biancheri
Nathalie Biancheri

Nathalie Biancheri
Director
Biancheri is living embodiment of the internationalism that now characterises the Irish film industry. She and Jessie Fisk run Feline, among the most interesting of Irish production companies, but her roots are from all over. “I am Italian. But my father was Russian-Italian and my mother was German-Italian,” she says. “I moved to London at 17 and then, at some point, we ended up in Dublin. Then I met Jessie, my business partner. You know when you meet someone and you think: this person has something.”

Like everyone else in 2020, they were hit by the pandemic, but they persevered, and Wolf, Biancheri’s second feature as director, has now made it to a rough cut. The industry is excited. George MacKay, Paddy Considine and Fionn O’Shea star in the story of a man who believes he is a wolf trapped in human form. The rising Lily-Rose Depp (yes, daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis) is also on board. Biancheri can scarcely believe they got there. “You think back to the start of your career, when it’s so impossible to make films,” she says. “I still feel that. Am I really making films? Am I?”

FILM Liz Fitzgibbon
Liz Fitzgibbon

Liz Fitzgibbon
Actor
Fitzgibbon and her colleagues had almost finished shooting Frank for Ireland, an enticing new comedy series for Channel 4, when lockdown hit, but that was far from the end of her professional year. She was in a little series called Normal People. Her role in Tracy Martin’s Dublin Will Show You How was up for gongs. “It was quiet. But then Normal People came out and that was an insane reaction,”says Fitzgibbon. “I won an Irish Times Theatre Award. So it was strange. I wasn’t working. But these things I had been involved with were coming to fruition.” Fitzgibbon, raised in Youghal, Co Cork, is an experienced theatre professional, but Frank for Ireland – written by Brian and Domhnall Gleeson with their pal Michael Moloney – marks a leap forward for her screen career. “It is an absolute joy,” says Fitzgibbon. “It’s basically a few days in the life of this character Frank, played by Brian. He is kind of a loser who lives with his Ma. It is gas.” Last year was far from a write-off. “I feel like I have been unbelievably lucky,” she says.

FILM Aaron Heffernan
Aaron Heffernan

Aaron Heffernan
Actor
You wouldn’t say Aaron Heffernan has been creeping up unnoticed, but, all of a sudden he feels like our busiest actor. This year he will be seen in the third series of Brassic, Sky’s outrageous comedy-drama, and the second series of the Fox Network’s take on War of the Worlds. He has been working consistently since graduating from Trinity College Dublin a decade ago. He was part of the Love/Hate generation. He did stirring work with his company Collapsing Horse Theatre. “Yeah, I think it was the baptism of fire of doing Edinburgh Fringe,” he ponders. “You are hungry enough to flyer for your own show. You learn to shop yourself around. That helped me to work consistently. There has been very little downtime since moving into London.” There is entertainment in the genes. His dad, David Heffernan, now a producer, was once a familiar presenter on RTÉ. Tina Denis, his mum, was a model and producer. You will not need to be told that Hollywood beckons. “I am eventually heading to LA,” he says. “But nothing specific yet. Just hustling, as they say.”

Sport, by Malachy Clerkin

SPORT Olivia Mehaffey. Photograph: Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Olivia Mehaffey. Photograph: Jeff Gross/Getty

Olivia Mehaffey
Golf
Had the pandemic not intervened, Olivia Mehaffey would have turned professional in 2020 but she has used the ill wind to her benefit and did a masters degrees in organisational leadership back at Arizona State. Along the way, she retained her amateur status and played in three majors, holding her own in each of them.

She ends 2020 as the 18th-ranked amateur player in the world and has been selected in the Curtis Cup squad for the matches to be played in Wales next August. Assuming the Co Down golfer doesn’t turn pro before then, it will be her third appearance in the matches -with only Claire Hourihan and the legendary Mary McKenna ahead of her in terms of Curtis Cups played. It will be an apt ending to a stellar amateur career.

Thomas Ahern. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Thomas Ahern. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Thomas Ahern
Rugby
We may as well get it out of the way quickly - Thomas Ahern is a tall, tall man. Standing at all of six-foot-eight, the 20-year-old Waterford lock is, as they say, a big unit. His main task as the next few years roll out excitingly ahead of him, is to show the world how much more there is to him than that, albeit that there is a lot of him to go around.

So let’s not obsess over his height. It is, yes, the one aspect of second-row play that can’t be taught but Ahern’s future will depend on all the things that can be. He made his senior Munster debut in the Pro-14 in early December and capped a late call-up against Zebre with a try. He is robust, confident and loves to carry the ball. One to keep an eye on, not that you can miss him.

SPORT Caoimhin Kelleher. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Caoimhin Kelleher. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty

Caoimhin Kelleher
Soccer
There are dream debuts and then there is what Caoimhin Kelleher had for Liverpool in the Champions League at the start of December. Though the 21-year-old from Cork had already played the occasional game here and there for the English champions, this was his first appearance in the big time. Regular keeper Allison Becker got a late injury and Jurgen Klopp picked Kelleher ahead of the usual stand-in Adrian.

Kelleher not only kept a clean sheet but pulled off a brilliant save late in the game to ensure that Liverpool won and went through to the next round. It was noticeable to all that Klopp wrapped Kelleher in a bear-hug immediately after the final whistle for a job well done. From here, the sky would appear to be the limit. Allison has been injury-prone all season so if Kelleher has genuinely leapfrogged Adrian in Klopp’s eyes, it could be a busy year ahead.

SPORT Saoirse Noonan. Photograph: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Saoirse Noonan. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Saoirse Noonan
Soccer and Gaelic football
Another Cork superstar, this time in two sports. In the space of one weekend in November, Noonan buried the two goals that put Cork City into the women’s FAI Cup semi-final, as well as one for the Cork women Gaelic footballers to beat Kerry in the first round of the All-Ireland championship. Her goals in both sports carried the two Cork teams to finals, and she was a key component of both teams’ successes. In between times, Noonan was called up to the Ireland women’s soccer squad for the Euro Championships qualifier against Germany. Her dead eye in front of goal makes the 21-year-old a threat in both sports so it will be fascinating to watch where it takes her this year.

SPORT Rhys McClenaghan. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Rhys McClenaghan. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty

Rhys McClenaghan
Gymnastics
We suspect that the year delay will have done Rhys McClenaghan no harm at all in his quest to become the first ever Irish Olympic medallist in gymnastics. His body will be a year stronger and his mind is such a bubbling geyser of positivity that it will have pushed him through what could easily have been a drab, depressing 12 months.

The 21-year-old from Newtownards – who also featured on this list last year – won European and Commonwealth gold medals on the pommel horse and took bronze in the world championships in 2019. He has 0.1 of a point to make up on reigning champion Max Whitelock, who will undoubtedly have improved in the meantime. If McClenaghan finds that difference, there will be no more popular champion.

Art and design, by Gemma Tipton

ART Leah Hewson
Leah Hewson

Leah Hewson
Visual artist
Hewson’s career, influenced by street art, the layering of patterns and the repeating designs that might underpin life, has been steadily building since she graduated from IADT in 2010. Since then residencies in Brooklyn and Berlin, and at the Royal Hibernian Academy School have given her time to develop her work through solo shows, collaborations and commissions. As the artist says, 95 per cent of brain activity takes place in the unconscious mind, and Hewson’s abstract work is a way to tap into the source – with added escapist overtones.

While 2020 has been challenging for all artists, she has been working steadily, with projections on the building facades of Harcourt Street for Culture Night, made in collaboration with Kurb Junki; time spent in Kerry’s Cill Rialaig Arts Centre and a show at Atelier Maser. She also won the Whyte’s Award for Painting at the 190th RHA Annual. Plans for 2021 include completing a suite of prints with Stoney Road Press, commissions for new works, and new limited edition print, with a percentage of the proceeds going to Pieta House.

ART Felicia Olusanya
Felicia Olusanya

Felicia Olusanya
Poet, performer, playwright
Nigerian-Irish poet, performer and playwright Felicia Olusanya is known on stage as Felispeaks. She has opened for Thisispopbaby’s Riot, and for Kate Tempest, and has also performed at Electric Picnic, the St Patrick’s Festival, First Fortnight and Wexford Literary Festival. Despite Covid, things sped up for Olusanya in 2020. “I’m grateful,” she says. “The year has been surprisingly good to me, and it has also given me more time to develop what I want to say. I have accidentally become an activist,” she adds. “I didn’t realise how radical it was to care about the things we should care about.”

A recent project that saw the old Mosney logo printed on a T-shirt, with Olysana’s poetry on the reverse, sold out in no time. A second printing for Christmas was made in aid of Bang Bang, which provides presents for children in direct provision. Olysana herself spent a year in direct provision, after having moved to Ireland with her mother at the age of eight. Now she’s working on a film script with Cara Loftus and Rockall Films, developing a play and working on a Dublin Theatre Festival commission with fellow collaborators Tolü Makay, Fendah and Bobby Zithelo. “I’m grateful to be heard, to have the opportunity to do this,” she says.

ART John King. Photograph: Kitty Geoghan
John King. Photograph: Kitty Geoghan

John King
Theatre
Returning from seven years spent in London and Washington DC, director and playwright John King made one of the stand-out shows in 2020’s abbreviated Dublin Fringe, with theatre collective Murmuration. “We were very lucky,” he says. “The early concept for Will I See You There needed little adaptation. Our notes from summer 2019 set out ‘intimacy without proximity’.” Little did he know how prescient that would be, as audience members sat in the Gallery of Photography, socially distanced, listening in on headphones to a pair of actors in Meeting House Square.

“We’re trying to stay ambitious, while working within the realms of what’s possible,” he says of 2021. With new work in development, he’s also a resident artist at FringeLab in Dublin, and an associate artist with Solas Nua in Washington. If Covid has changed how we see the world, King may be just the person to show it to us, through the magic of theatre.

St John Walsh
St John Walsh

St John Walsh
Architecture
St John Walsh’s Alder Architects was established in 2019. Having studied in Dublin and Copenhagen, and graduating from UCD, Walsh worked in Ireland and the UK before returning to set up his own practice. Since then fascinating projects include a brilliantly inventive conversion of the architect’s own small Dublin Artisan Dwellings cottage (with a footprint of less than 29sq m); intriguing ideas for pop-up festival ticket booths; and a collaboration with Estonian architects b210, to explore how the individual beauty of trees becomes lost to the industrial process.

That project will be shown in an Irish Architecture Foundation exhibition in March. “As an emerging practice, you’re always looking to find ways to test your skills,” he says, describing the necessary “balance between idealism and pragmatism.” Over the past few months, he adds, our homes have had to become more flexible, “yet the way we currently build resists adaptability.” Exploring good, flexible design has never been more needed, and is clearly on Walsh’s agenda for 2021.

ART Ala Buisir. Photograph: Yahya Buisir
Ala Buisir. Photograph: Yahya Buisir
ART Jialin Long
Jialin Long
ART Mandy O'Neill
Mandy O'Neill

Ala Buisir, Jialin Long, Mandy O’Neill, Tessy Ehiguese and Tobi Isaac-Irein
Photography
The Gallery of Photography’s Diversity Commissions is an intriguing project marking a departure in the way we see and understand Ireland in 2021. Five young photographers have been commissioned to make new art. For Tobi Isaac-Irein this means looking at individuality, “but also how growing up as an expat in Ireland has resulted in unique cultural identities which go on to affect the wider community.”

Jialin Long says “my connection with my family back in China has become more distant. The more time I spend in Ireland, the more I feel people are living in different worlds. I want to challenge the stereotyping of the Chinese community in Ireland.”

“Most of my work is political, post-political and community oriented,” says Ala Buisir. “I have always had politics in my life, and I have always looked for social justice in my work.” She was born in Ireland; her father was exiled from Libya at the age of 15. “The most frightening thing now,” she says, “is the rise of the far right, that and misinformation, that’s what’s scaring me. But if you tell me I can’t do something, I’ll do it.”

For Tessy Ehiguese, photography is about creating a story and portraying beauty. Her project looks at migrant small business owners, as well as migrants working in privileged professions. “I want the public to see their faces as we celebrate them.”

Mandy O’Neill is interested in exploring what we actually mean by the concept of “diversity”, working with a group of 15- to 18-year-old girls in Dublin, while also continuing her PhD at Dublin City University.

Entrepreneurs, by Ciara O’Brien

ENTREPRENEUR Charlie Gleeson. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Charlie Gleeson. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Charlie Gleeson
Zipp Mobility
Before the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, Charlie Gleeson was aiming Zipp Mobility squarely at the student market, specifically the UCD campus in Dublin. With e-scooters existing in a legal vacuum, it was the only way he could trial the vehicles without falling foul of the law. The rental service had a simple plan: a 75 cent unlock fee and a charge of 20 cent per minute. But then the world stopped, and suddenly e-scooters were a viable form of transport for people trying to avoid public transport.

The company raised €500,000 in an angel investor funding round in September, with former Irish rugby captain Brian O’Driscoll among the investors backing the fledgling company. The money, which brought the company’s total funding to more than €1 million to date, was to be used for the company’s planned launch in the UK.

Since then the company has started to make inroads into the UK market. In November it began operating trials in two British towns, with plans for 300 scooters in both High Wycombe and Aylesbury in the coming months. That joined an existing trial in Taunton, Somerset.

Gleeson’s original reason for setting up Zipp Mobility in 2019 was because he was frustrated trying to get around Irish cities and wanted to solve the twin problems of carbon emissions and congestion; with promised e-scooter legislation set to come before the Dáil in the near future, he may yet achieve that goal.

ENTREPRENEUR Brian O'Rourke and Alan Farrelly
Brian O'Rourke and Alan Farrelly

Brian O’Rourke and Alan Farrelly
CitySwift
Public transport isn’t an easy market. But Irish company CitySwift is trying to make it its own. The company, founded by Brian O’Rourke and Alan Farrelly, provides data-driven scheduling and planning technology for public transport companies. In the current climate that may be a more lucrative option than it first appears. With the ongoing pandemic, consumer transport patterns have been altered beyond recognition; CitySwift offers transport companies a way to respond effectively, using big data and machine learning. Among its offerings is a tool that can help passengers decide when it is best to travel on buses, indicating when buses have enough space on a stop-by-stop basis. The Galway-based company has been mostly working on building its partnerships in the UK, but is planning further expansion – and we may even see the technology implemented in Ireland before long.

ENTREPRENEUR Aimée Louise Carton and Will Ben Sims
Aimée-Louise Carton and Will Ben Sims

Aimée-Louise Carton and Will Ben Sims
KeepAppy
If you have found the past 10 months or so hard going, you are not alone. As the country locked down to curb the spread of Covid-19, there has been a rise in anxiety levels, with the situation taking its toll on mental health and wellbeing.

So it is little surprise that tools to help manage our mental health have become increasingly popular. KeepAppy, founded by Aimée-Louise Carton and Will Ben Sims, is a personal mental wellness app. Described as a “wellbeing gym” to help people take control of both their mental and physical health, KeepAppy is designed to appeal to users who want more than a simple meditation app. It can help you keep track of all the vital elements that most affect a person’s wellbeing and encourage users to engage in positive practices, with a number of techniques offered so users can choose the one most suited to them. The newest addition, introduced earlier this year, is a sort of 21st-century tamagotchi, an interactive animated character to care for that represents the gamification of caring for yourself.

There is an element of personal experience at play here; the app is a result of Carton’s own experience with mental illness, and the concept came from her struggle to care for her dog Aura while she was at her lowest point.

Although there may be hope of an end to the pandemic, the techniques picked up from the app will last a lot longer.

ENTREPRENEUR Bidemi Afolabi and Lauren O'Reilly
Bidemi Afolabi and Lauren O'Reilly

Bidemi Afolabi and Lauren O’Reilly
ProMotion
ProMotion, the winner of this year’s Trinity College LaunchBox programme, offers bike owners and brands a platform to connect. For the brand owners, they get access to advertising space on private bikes; for bike owners, they get paid to make healthy choices. The system was devised by pharmacy students Bidemi Afolabi and Lauren O’Reilly.

Once bike owners and brands connect, cyclists are sent a promotional attachment for the back wheel of their bikes. Mileage is tracked through an app; the more you cycle, the more you earn. With a new generation of cyclists taking to the roads in a bid to avoid public transport, the potential pool of advertising space could be considerable. For brands, not only would it open up the possibility of targeting cyclists who are regulars on specific routes, but it also gives them the positive association with health and wellbeing. Winners all round, it seems.

ENTREPRENEUR Michael McLaughlin
Michael McLaughlin

John McElhone and Michael McLaughlin
CropSafe
Technology can help the productivity of most sectors take a turn for the better, and agriculture is no exception. Start-up CropSafe has built simple farm management apps and hardware that it says will help improve productivity and yields for any farmer across the globe. The CropSafe system, devised by John McElhone and Michael McLaughlin, uses satellite imagery and machine learning to help farmers and landowners spot areas that may need attention quickly. The information is relayed through a real-time dashboard on a mobile app, giving farmers the option to act quickly to deal with diseased crops. It’s an affordable way for farmers to keep a close eye on their land and flag any potential problems before it’s too late.

Music, by Una Mullally

MUSIC For Those I Love (David Balfe). Photograph:Faolan Careyá
For Those I Love. Photograph: Faolan Careyá

For Those I Love
There is now a sort of stunned reverence in the Irish music scene for Dave Balfe aka For Those I Love, who recorded a devastating album in tribute to his best friend, Paul Curran, who died in 2018. That album will be released this year by September Recordings, the label arm of September Management (Adele, Rick Rubin, London Grammar). In 2020 he performed live as For Those I Love for the first time, which just so happened to be on Later … with Jools Holland, and he closed out the year with a performance at Other Voices. Well worth checking out too is his brilliant mixtape Into a World that Doesn’t Understand it, Unless You’re From It. Balfe – whose intellect, creativity, sophistication, and honesty as an artist feels different to anything Ireland has produced before – will be one of the talents our entire cultural year orients around. His directorial vision is also behind some stunning videos accompanying his music. Your heart will fill and break in response to this talent.

MUSIC CMAT. Photograph: Sarah Doyle
CMAT. Photograph: Sarah Doyle

CMAT
Sometimes putting the cart before the horse actually works, because when Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson declared herself a pop star in 2020, it was hard to argue. The first CMAT trio of tunes – Another Day (KFC), Rodney, I Wanna Be a Cowboy, Baby! – are an absolute tonic, and CMAT will surely continue on a trajectory that is as joyous as it is intriguing. Having magicked a career into being during lockdown, her charm and vibrancy brought some much-needed cheer to dark days. Redefining country pop? Why not? But underneath the humour, fun videos and snappy online presence is a keen and developed songwriting talent, not to mention a head-turning voice. Building a fan base in 2020 with the live industry shutdown was no easy task, and she’ll be one performer punters will be gagging to see this year. So if you’re intrigued that there’s a singer out there who has finally – somehow – connected the dots between Glen Campbell and Samantha Mumba, saddle up.

A92
In October, when Charlie Sloth introduced rapper Offica as “straight out of Ireland”, Offica made a clarification straight away: “Yo, Drogheda, Drogheda.” And then when he was about to rap, “This one’s for Drogheda. For the country: Ireland.” That Offica is one of Ireland’s fastest-rising rappers that the mainstream knows little about highlights how the drill scene here makes, sustains and protects the underground. The A92 crew from Drogheda, of which Offica is a key figure, released the track A9 Link Up in the latter half of 2020. While some of the production and bars demonstrate a cohort in the relative early stages of their artistic practice – nothing wrong with that – there is a sense that this crew, which includes BT, Nikz, ACE, KEBZ, K-SAV, DBO, could potentially progress to bigger things in 2021. “Where we’re from we don’t get recognition,” Offica once rapped. Irish drill revels in the shadows. but the spotlight might come calling soon.

MUSIC Spirits Photograph: Conor O'Beirne
Sprints. Photograph: Conor O'Beirne

Sprints
In recent years the anti-cool stance of Irish bands has ended up being a defining characteristic of a collection of young musicians doing things their way. No doubt, there are plenty of industry folk outside of Ireland wondering who will follow in the footsteps of Girl Band, Fontaines DC, The Murder Capital, Pillow Queens, Bitch Falcon and Just Mustard. Girl Band – the most influential Irish band of their generation – loom in the background of Sprints’ sound (Daniel Fox of Girl Band produced their upcoming Manifesto EP). Having only formed in 2019, you can almost hear the development in real time since one of the their first tunes, Kissing Practice. There’s a touch of MayKay in frontwoman Karla Chubb’s vocal style on The Cheek, and the track Manifesto is a cracker, but it’s their song Drones, with its surging noise, that points to bigger things.

MUSIC GavinDaVinci
GavinDaVinci
MUSIC Hazey Haze
Hazey Haze

PX Music
Limerick has always produced musicians who shirk trends and do their own thing. The recent wave includes Denise Chaila (who featured in last year’s list, and had an incredible breakout 2020), MuRli, Strange Boy and of course GodKnows, and all display a vibrancy perfectly captured by the South West Allstars remix of Who’s Asking? PX Music is a collective of young artists, with rappers Hazey Haze and GavinDaVinci in particular coming to the fore. Hazey Haze can lay claim to releasing an album last year that doesn’t sound like much else, the bizarre and intriguing Pignorant. GavinDaVinci’s 2020 six-track release, Please, Don’t Listen to My Shit if You Love Me, was rough and raw, but it was the three-minute Council House Freestyle, which followed in November, that captured his bristling energy.

Sustainability and climate change, by Catherine Cleary

SUSTAINABILITY Yvonne Buckley. Photograph: Viv Buckley
Yvonne Buckley. Photograph: Viv Buckley

Yvonne Buckley
Scientist
Scientists who are great communicators have never been more vital, and Yvonne Buckley is a compelling storyteller. Growing up in Kanturk, Co Cork, she loved books and biology. But science won out over English, and she studied at Oxford, Imperial College London and in Brisbane before her appointment as Trinity College Dublin professor of zoology. This year will see Buckley (43) and her colleague Prof Jane Stout take Trinity’s Nature+ institute mainstream with “all kinds of solutions right across society from business to government to individuals”. She believes the pandemic has focused our minds on the importance of the simpler things in life – our connections to nature and our communities, “although not all of us have been equally affected by Covid”. In the rush to stimulate economic activity, she hopes that strength of community and “being connected to our place” will hold. If we decide “what it is we want to keep” from our 2020 experience, that could help promote positive climate action into the future.

SUSTAINABILITY Angela Rutura
Angel Arutura

Angel Arutura
Climate and anti-racism activist
As a child growing up outside Belfast, Angel Arutura was “always fascinated by the world around us and people and the planet.” During lockdown the 20-year-old geography student used social media to join the dots between racial justice and climate justice. Climate activists “are talking about climate justice as rising sea levels and plastic pollution. But what they’re not talking about is how it’s affecting people.” Black Lives Matter and environmentalism are “incredibly interlinked,” she says, “because people that are least contributing to the climate crisis are suffering most from it.” She’s fascinated by the need to “unlearn and relearn” ideas about climate justice in the same way that feminism had to widen out its focus from middle class white women. Climate leaders “need to pass the mic, to give it to the people whose voices need to be heard,” primarily those with first hand accounts, Arutura says. And the Covid effect? “I’m hopeful that eventually we’ll be in a place where everyone can treat people on the planet with much more kindness.” instagram.com/angelarutura

SUSTAINABILITY Kate Ruddock. Photograph: Ruth Medjber
Kate Ruddock. Photograph: Ruth Medjber

Kate Ruddock
Friends of the Earth
Ruddock’s five years in Scotland working with an environmental consultancy fired her enthusiasm for community-owned renewable energy projects. The Scots “set themselves a target of 500 megawatts of community-owned renewables by 2020 and hit the target early,” she says. In Ireland we have a single community-owned project, Templederry, producing five megawatts. A further seven in the pipeline will bring us up to just under 50 megawatts or a 10th of what Scottish community-owned infrastructure is producing. In her work with Friends of the Earth, the Solar Schools project has prompted a huge interest. She’s “a general optimist” about the effects of Covid on the climate crisis. “There’s a lot of positives, particularly around what people value, what’s important, what makes people happy and how they spend their time. In her own children’ school, the raffle this year had prizes of activity tokens for the kids rather than the big-ticket prizes typically fundraised from local businesses. Living on the coast, she sees the new wave of sea swimmers as a connection to nature that can only be a good thing. Dryrobes or no Dryrobes.

SUSTAINABILITY Kayle Crosson. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Kayle Crosson. Photograph: Alan Betson

Kayle Crosson
Green News
Crosson covered a range of areas, starting out in journalism. In 2018, just before the IPCC report warning there were just 12 years left to keep temperature rises at a safe level, she decided to focus on environmental reporting. Last year the 25-year-old became editor of Green News. It’s been a fascinating year, with Covid drawing together the strands that connect climate to health. Her focus has been on turning academic expertise into explainer pieces to attract a wider audience.

“I’ve noticed a lot more health research coming out linking climate and health, more connections drawn,” she says. “If you show how these things are inter-related, you’re going to pull in different people. Journalism is holding people to account.

“What I would love to see is that every time we see extreme weather coverage, the climate crisis is mentioned. For every 1 degree of warming there’s 7 per cent more water vapour in the atmosphere, which leads to heavier flooding.” Crosson believes reporters need to connect those facts together.

SUSTAINABILITY John Beckett
John Beckett

John Beckett
ChannelSight
John Beckett is frustrated that Ireland languishes at the bottom in the climate action league. The 39-year-old tech entrepreneur helped build Ryanair’s first website while doing his Leaving Cert and has set up a dozen businesses since then. He heads up Irish tech firm ChannelSight, where he started a not-for-profit for companies to go carbon neutral by planting native Irish woodlands. “We need every solution, every intelligent person thinking about how they can make a difference,” he says. He’s on a mission to make climate tech and climate change solutions sexy (a move fast and fix stuff approach). This year will see a bigger native woodlands partnership with Coillte Nature. He is intrigued at the challenge of shifting some of the “smartest people on the planet” from thinking about how to get us to click on ads to tackling the biggest existential threat we face. “Saving the world is going to be a big business.”

Politics, by Jennifer Bray

POLITICS Annie Hoey
Annie Hoey

Annie Hoey
Labour Senator
When Alan Kelly became the 13th leader of the Labour Party in spring, he promised to make the party more relevant to younger voters and to present Labour as a competent agent of change.

Enter Annie Hoey, a 32-year-old Senator from Drogheda. Incredibly, Hoey has contested eight elections in the past seven years between local elections and USI or college elections.

The self-described “raging feminist” co-founded UCC’s first ever feminist society, FemSoc, and was heavily involved in the same-sex marriage equality referendum, the referendum to Repeal the Eighth amendment and the recent campaign of Michael D Higgins as he went for a second tilt at the presidency.

She is communicating with potential future Labour supporters through Instagram DMs and using her links to student politics to make Alan Kelly’s dream of new young supporters a reality. “It is a really exciting period. We have had lots of new members over the last couple of months up and down the country.”

She says she will spend the next period putting issues on the table that “really affect people”, including a campaign to ensure student nurses get better pay and have better working conditions. “Every single year it comes up and people across the political divide say, ‘Oh my lord, whatever can we do about this?’, but treat people badly at the start of their career and you will lose them for the rest of their career.”

POLITICS Christopher O'Sullivan
Christopher O'Sullivan

Christopher O’Sullivan
Fianna Fáil TD
A three-time councillor, Clonakilty-born Christopher O’Sullivan, is one of the younger faces of Fianna Fáil. He was successful on his first run for the Dáil in February’s general election.

The 38-year-old law graduate says the party has a challenge ahead if it wants to connect with younger voters. “Young people have become more politicised and involved. My angle, and it is not just an angle because it is for the good of the planet, is through climate action.”

O’Sullivan has become involved in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action, which he did to challenge the perception that climate action was not high on Fianna Fáil’s political agenda.

The Cork TD has also served as chairman of the Clonakilty Chamber of Commerce before, and he sees 2021 as a year in which local businesses can begin to emerge from the wreckage wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“If I was to sit down and set out my targets for 2021, one of the key pillars will be returning people to sustainable jobs. There are huge opportunities. Tourism has taken a huge hit. Many of the businesses in Clonakilty are in hospitality. I would love to be involved in a bounce-back for the sector. We can learn so much from what happened in July, August and September, when people discovered Ireland for the first time. Instagram was full of these beautiful, colourful pictures. There is something to be learned there.”

POLITICS Holly Cairns
Holly Cairns

Holly Cairns
Social Democrats TD
As the only female TD for all of Cork city and county, Holly Cairns has found herself fighting the corner for a huge number of her constituents who feel their concerns are not being heard.

The 31-year-old Social Democrats TD hails from west Cork and has impressed political observers with astute contributions in the Dáil since her election in February.

“A lot of the time the issues find you rather than the other way around. The reality is, and sometimes I am reluctant to talk about it because I don’t want to be pigeon-holed, but a lot of the stuff that comes to me are women’s issues, issues around refuge spaces for victims of domestic violence. In the pandemic we saw restrictions being reviewed, revised and eased, but not in maternity wards. Women were giving birth alone; fielding really bad news alone. There was a complete lack of consistency. And that is symptomatic of not having enough women around the decision table.”

Ms Cairns is now working on a new Bill that could have a big impact in terms of getting more women involved in politics.

“We don’t have proper provision for maternity leave for councillors, TDs or senators. We can’t scratch our head after every general election and wonder why more women are not elected when there is not that option for maternity leave.” Her Bill, which she plans to progress in the coming months, will address this at last and will hopefully go some way to ensuring a better gender balance across politics generally.

POLITICS Mairéad Farrell
Mairéad Farrell

Mairéad Farrell
Sinn Féin TD
Galway woman Mairéad Farrell was one of a host of new Sinn Féin TDs who swept into the Dáil on the back of a historic general election for the party in February. She was a councillor from 2014 until 2019, and is now the party’s spokeswoman on public expenditure and reform. She is considered a rising star within the party. Farrell, who is 30, is quickly learning the ropes with help from party heavyweights such as Pearse Doherty. “Our offices are beside each other, which is very handy for learning. Even with the Finance Bill, we work on that together, and with the budget there was a huge amount of work there. The budget stuff was a steep learning curve.”

In a bid to make politics more accessible, she started creating behind-the-scenes video diaries to give people an idea of what the day-to-day life of a TD involves. The added bonus is that it helps people get to know her at a time when many face-to-face meetings are off the cards. She is hoping to tackle what she says is a problematic link between politics and lobbying.

“This is where people literally work as a minister one week and they are being lobbied by a firm, and then they go and work for that firm. I want to shut that door. For people looking in, it is just wrong.” Sinn Féin has designs on Government Buildings and is working to ensure it ascends to power after the next election. “I want us to be in Government, and we really want to be in Government. I want to work as hard as I can.”

POLITICS Colm Markey
Colm Markey

Colm Markey
Fine Gael MEP
After 11 eventful years in local politics, Fine Gael’s Colm Markey has just taken up his new post as a Member of the European Parliament for the Midlands North-West constituency.

This came about after Mairéad McGuinness took up a role as European Commissioner, a change that was precipitated by the so-called “golfgate” controversy last summer and the resignation of Phil Hogan.

With nine Dublin marathons under his belt, the Togher man says he has the stamina to take on the huge challenges that 2021 will bring including in relation to Brexit and Covid-19.

As a farmer by trade, however, he says he will use his new position to fight for better supports for Ireland’s agricultural sector. “Rural development and agriculture will be two priorities for me. I am becoming an MEP during interesting times.” He says his key areas will also involve transport and fisheries. “Within all of those, the environmental implications are significant.”

Fashion and beauty, by Deirdre McQuillan and Laura Kennedy

FASHION Una Curran
Una Curran

Una Curran
Fashion graduate
In a difficult year for fashion graduates – no fashion show, no Erasmus or industry placements – Dubliner Una Curran (23), the winner of this year’s Brown Thomas fashion bursary, is awaiting part of her prize, a coveted two-month placement in London with designer J W Anderson. Her winning collection, Entangled Traces, based on her ideas about fashion surveillance and its effect on identity, was notable for its ideas and intricate, detailed handwork. “A lot of my work starts with colour and putting a palette together, but with this I went straight into it with embroidery and collage and seeing how they worked,” she says. Curran describes herself as obsessive when it comes to research, and her observations of the flight path patterns of birds and how to capture such movement informed her collection, as well as The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff’s powerful examination of the digital revolution. She now wants to gain industry experience and do a master’s degree.

FASHION Vita Byrne Carty. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.
Vita Byrne Carty. Photograph: Tom Honan

Vita Byrne Carty
Model and medical student
Byrne Carty, who is 20, is managing to combine two very separate career demands – one as an already successful model while also studying medicine in UCD. Having barely finished her Leaving Cert, she was already walking for Vetements at Paris Fashion Week and for Ashley Williams at London Fashion Week, her boyish looks chiming with fashion’s continuing focus on gender-neutral collections. She views modelling as a form of artistic self-expression and is known for her ability to transform a mundane shoot into something special. In a whirlwind year, her portfolio has included various high-profile campaigns and a two-month contract in China, and she will continue to be in demand in the coming year while juggling her medical studies and learning Japanese. Her most recent assignment in London was making a video with Dame Vivienne Westwood for the designer’s spring-summer collection with music, poetry and fashion.

FASHION Aimee Connolly
Aimee Connolly

Aimee Connolly
Beauty entrepreneur
Dublin-based entrepreneur and make-up artist Aimee Connolly went into business straight after graduating from UCD with a commerce international bachelor’s degree. She had been working in make-up since the age of 16, gaining experience working on counter for brands such as Urban Decay before a successful freelance career as a make-up artist. She says, “I wanted to use my interest in business to create something that I could grow.”

Connolly had been saving to launch her business since her first job, and the result is Sculpted by Aimee, the completely self-funded beauty brand Connolly has spent close to four years building. It offers high-quality, skincare-led affordable complexion and colour products. Each year since its inception, Sculpted has grown, and is now stocked by Boots Ireland, as well as recently launching into the UK market. Connolly maintained growth this year by focusing on ecommerce during the pandemic, which has exploded by 300 per cent.

FASHION Aoife McNamara
Aoife McNamara

Aoife McNamara
Fashion designer
Following her graduation from Limerick School of Art and Design in 2018 and a five-month placement with Marc Jacobs in New York, Aoife McNamara, who is 24, headed to Paris, where she found work with a number of designers, before returning to Ireland to a job redesigning corporate uniforms. Very active on social media while still at college, she started her own blog and now boasts more than 26,000 followers on Instagram. Her first collection, She’s a Dreamer, inspired by the 1990s in velvet, Irish wool, satin, crepe and neoprene – “to make women feel empowered” – established her style and its focus on tailoring and oversize shoulders. She is the best advertisement for her own clothes, is big into exercise and triathlons and is working on a New Frontiers fashion and technology course in LIT. On top of that she has just opened her own shop, studio and creative space for artists in Adare called Aoife’s Village. She sells online at aoifemcnamara.com.

FASHION Amelia O'Mahony Brady
Amelia O'Mahony Brady

Amelia O’Mahony Brady
Fashion writer and academic
The 22-year-old has been a gifted freelance writer on fashion and culture since the age of 17. She was fashion editor of Totally Dublin for two years. O’Mahony Brady is now immersing herself full time in dress research between Milanese and Venetian fashion archives. She is a fluent Italian speaker who has divided her time between Ireland and Italy in recent years. The research will enable her to complete her joint honours thesis in TCD. The pandemic’s restrictions on travel and securing key resources for research, however, have sown the seeds in her head of establishing a post-graduate career in fashion academia and archiving. Intelligent and perceptive, she is also notable for her colourful personal style and promises to produce an interesting and innovative account of fashion’s significance in the shaping of Irish and Italian culture alike.

Activism, by Una Mullally

Affinity Collective
Affinity Collective is a radical housing and permaculture co-operative. Their current fundraiser (search for them on gofundme.com) is working towards purchasing a plot of land in Co Cavan, planting trees, building sustainably and meeting energy needs with alternatives to fossil fuels. Amid the noisy conversation on developer-led “co-living” buildings, a conversation has been lost on the potential of communal living, and the prospect it offers to build real communities in alternative settings in urban and rural areas, which contribute as much to biodiversity as they do to community. The collective, made up of a group of activists, artists and environmental scientists, says: “By getting away from conventional models of living, we are exploring solutions new and old to the many challenges facing our world.”

ACTIVISM Lucky Khambule and Ola Mustapha speaking at a Masi event. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Lucky Khambule and Ola Mustapha speaking at a Masi event. Photograph: Alan Betson

Masi
The Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland isn’t a new organisation (it formed in 2014), but its voice has grown as the conversation and activism around ending the cruel and inhumane system of direct provision has increased and widened. Masi declares: “We believe that speaking together in one voice, moving together in one direction, we are much stronger, our voices much louder and more difficult to ignore and dismiss. Part of the purpose of direct provision and dispersal is to keep us apart, divided, ghettoised, our power stolen. For us, Masi is a way to take back our power and demand freedom, justice and dignity for all asylum seekers.” With the Advisory Group on Direct Provision chaired by Dr Catherine Day offering momentum to the broader #EndDP movement, it’s important that the voices of asylum seekers are central to the national conversation.

ACTIVISM Lauren Tuite. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times
Lauren Tuite. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

D8 Development
Last year Ian Tracy and Lauren Tuite began D8 Development, an urban-development company with a conscience. With dereliction a major issue in Dublin city centre, one of the supposed “solutions” to that is often merely demolition, which undermines the integrity of our streetscapes and often replaces character-filled buildings with homogenous design. The idea of smaller developers intervening, and restoring places with integrity and care, certainly feels like a more desirable and holistic approach to maintaining the character of the capital’s streets and shop fronts. D8 Development is looking to do just that in Dublin 8, which is struggling with intense corporate gentrification. Their first space, a refurbishment of the Emmet Hall building in Inchicore, was redeveloped in 2020.

ACTIVISM Black Pride Ireland
Black Pride Ireland

Black Pride Ireland
Young black leadership in Ireland became much more visible in 2020 thanks to the landmark Black Lives Matter marches across the country. Black Pride Ireland, a movement for black LGBT+ people in Ireland, highlighted the importance of intersectionality across pride movements and anti-racism work more generally. Black youth in Ireland are at the vanguard of contemporary culture, and alongside their allies it’s clear that the social justice work in 2020 is creating a hugely positive force for social change, anti-racism work, and joining the dots between racial injustice movements in North America and local issues, including the dismantling of direct provision. In a statement last summer, the organisation said: “Black liberation cannot be realised without queer and trans liberation.”

Trans Writers Union
Trans Writers Union, founded by Anna Walsh and James Hudson, aims to “give trans creators a point to gather around, pool knowledge, share opportunities and keep one another safe in overtly or implicitly hostile industries” in Ireland and the UK, through connecting trans creatives with publishers, offering pathways for trans writers to meet one another offline and encouraging publishers and outlets to respond to and engage with criticisms on transphobia. For broader society, particularly media, bringing trans voices to the fore includes moving beyond the siloes trans people are often placed in, where media spotlights trans people solely on trans issues and issues of gender identity. Platforming the fullness of trans lives, and the diverse interests, activities and experiences within a non-homogenous group, is a crucial part of genuine inclusivity and representation.

Food and drink, by Corinna Hardgrave

FOOD Christine Walsh. Photograph: Joe O'Shaughnessy
Christine Walsh. Photograph: Joe O'Shaughnessy

Christine Walsh
Chef
Sustainability has always been at the heart of Christine Walsh’s cooking. The chef has been happy to keep a low profile, but is highly regarded among her peers. She worked at one-Michelin-star Loam in Galway for four years and was part of the opening team at Allta, which burst on to the Dublin scene at the end of 2019. Now back in Galway, she has taken up the head chef position in Éan, the new bakery, restaurant and wine bar owned by Enda McEvoy and Sinéad Meacle, the husband-and-wife team behind Loam. While the focus is on the bakery to start with, there are plans for this to evolve into a dream of a wine bar in the evening, with an impressive wine list and choice of small plates. As with Loam, it will be seasonally led, with vegetables from Leaf & Root Farm. Charcuterie, a speciality of Walsh’s, will feature, alongside dishes such as clam and wet garlic flatbread, venison tartare with beetroot, shallot and rye, and salt pollock with lovage and parsley.

FOOD Daniela Carnevali Alvizua. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Daniela Carnevali Alvizua. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Daniela Carnevali and María Rodríguez
Bakers
The hatch at The Fumbally Stables has been home to food producers over the past few months, and the most recent arrival is Mona-mie bakery. The play on words refers not only to “mon amie”, the French for “my friend”, but also to the French word for crumb, “mie”. This makes perfect sense when you realise that the two Venezuelan chefs behind it first met when they were living in Lyon. Carnevali, who had helped set up the No Messin’ bakery in Smithfield, was keen to get her own bakery going. Rather than wait around for the perfect premises, she teamed up with María Rodríguez, and the pair now use the kitchen in The Fumbally Stables on Mondays. Specialities include golfeados, a Venezuelan brioche bun with raw cane sugar syrup; Sabanero, a Venezuelan-style cheese that is produced in Galway; a French-inspired Tropézienne filled with orange blossom cream; and cachitos, a savoury brioche bun with Gubbeen ham.

FOOD Ian Doyle. Photograph: Anita Murphy
Ian Doyle. Photograph: Anita Murphy

Ian Doyle
Chef
Pre-Covid, reducing the number of seats in a restaurant was a sure way to get tongues wagging in the food industry, because it generally indicated a level of ambition that would have the Michelin Guide slapping the ‘special watch’ post-it on its name. Rather than a result of this year’s events, this was part of the plan for Ian Doyle, who took over as executive chef in the Cliff House Hotel’s one Michelin star House restaurant earlier this year. Cutting his teeth in Dylan McGrath’s Mint restaurant, more recently he has been on the Nordic trail, spending two years in Noma, followed by four years as head chef in Oaxen Krog, a two-Michelin-star restaurant in Stockholm. With the covers slashed from 64 to 36, the Carlow native is focused on simplicity and consistency. Like many of the Nordic inspired chefs, this means hyper local produce, with foraged elements like sea truffle, pepper dulse, alexanders and woodruff turning up on his dishes. Of particular note is his dish of local lobster in carrot and oyster sauce.

FOOD Mick O’Connell and Shane Murphy. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times
Mick O’Connell and Shane Murphy. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Mick O’Connell and Shane Murphy
Wine merchants
Fans of Noble Rot in London, the much-loved Bloomsbury restaurant and wine bar, will feel a certain sense of familiarity as they browse through the shelves of Neighbourhood Wine. Master of Wine Mick O’Connell and La Mission wine importer Shane Murphy ripped up the carpet of the Leeson Lounge to reveal a parquet floor, and flung open the doors to their haven of a wine shop just one week after they pocketed the keys to the premises. The sheer speed of events was helped by the fact that O’Connell’s dad, who has a furniture business, was on hand to build the impressive shelving that houses numerous interesting bottles against the backdrop of a bare brick wall. Like their mates, Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew in Noble Rot, the selection here has low intervention written all over it, with cult names such as Gut Oggau from the natural wine world mixing with new and exciting Burgundy winemakers such as Amélie Berthaut-Gerbet. With room for a wine bar, and leading sommelier Katie Seward joining the staff, there is more than a frisson of excitement about the potential of this new spot.

FOOD Cúán Greene
Cúán Greene

Cúán Greene
Chef
If you’ve been following Cúán Greene on Instagram, you might have been lucky enough to bag one of his one-off food offerings from the Noma-trained chef who returned to Dublin last year. His Cosmic Taco box and his Sip’n’Dip collab with Scéal Bakery both sold out in minutes. He is on this People to Watch list for the second year running. In 2021 what we’re really looking forward to is the realisation of his new concept, ómós, where food and the creativity of craftspeople intersect. He has spent the past six months collaborating with spoon makers, knife makers and ceramicists; staying with them, learning from them and making things together. The idea is to combine these elements into an immersive experience, initially as a Makers’ Dinner series, doing three 15-course dinners a week, with just six diners each evening – and yes, you’ll need to stalk Instagram to land a booking. The plan is to develop this into a permanent restaurant concept. He has a US investor already on board and is working on getting further investment.